Electric Baseboard Heaters: Pay Now and Pay Later
Electric baseboard heaters are fairly cheap to buy and install, but they keep costing you with their heavy use of energy. Although they convert nearly 100% of energy into heat, when you add in the cost of electricity generation and transmission losses, these heaters becomes expensive and inefficient.
Making the Best of the Ones you Have
You can't always make changes. You might be living in an apartment with baseboard heaters. Or you live in a house but can't afford to change your heating system. Or you're using baseboard heaters for an addition to your house because it's not practical to extend the existing heating system to supply heat to the new addition.
However, there are ways to help these heaters work more efficiently.
• Make sure the baseboard heater sits at least three-quarters of an inch above the floor or carpet. If your carpet is thick, cut away an area around the heater. The cooler air on the floor needs to be able to flow under and through the radiator fins so it can be heated.
• Move furniture or draperies away from heater so they don't trap the warm air or present a fire hazard.
• Vacuum the coils regularly. A coating of dust and dirt can reduce the amount of heat produced, increase the energy consumption, and shorten the heater's lifespan.
• Fit the unit tight to the wall to prevent the warm air from convecting behind the heater, rather than flowing upward.
• If your heater doesn't have a fan, place a small fan next to it to help circulate the warm air into the room. Or run a ceiling fan on low in reverse, so it pushes down some of the heat that's risen to the ceiling.
• If it doesn't have a programmable thermostat, buy a low-voltage one made especially for baseboard heaters.
• Use a single portable space heater pointed directly at you. While space heaters are energy hogs, they'll save you money if using them means you can turn down the baseboard heaters in other parts of your house.
If you're in a position to buy new baseboards heaters, a little upfront investment will pay off in savings on energy bills down the road.
• Buy a good quality one that has a fan to help distribute the heat.
• Don't buy models with line-voltage thermostats built directly into the baseboard heater. They often don't sense the room temperature accurately.
• Get a more expensive model with a wall-mounted programmable thermostat so you can automatically lower the temperature when you're at work or asleep.
• Look for heaters that carry labels from Underwriter's Laboratories (UL) and the National Electrical Manufacturer's Association (NEMA).
Consider replacing baseboard heaters with a heat pump. Although more expensive to install, you'll cut electricity costs by 50%. An exception is in dry climates such as the Southwest where there are so few heating days that the cost and energy used to heat is not significant.
"Electric Resistance Heating." US Department of Energy: A Consumer's Guide to Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. http://www.eere.energy.gov/consumer/your_home/space_heating_cooling/index.cfm/mytopic=12520
Adria Vasil. Ecoholic: "How to junk flyers and squeeze more heard from baseboards." Now (Jan 321-Feb 6, 2008) p. 37.
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